Madeline was born six months after Savannah. My best friend, Elizabeth, and I were thrilled that our little girls would grow up together and would also be best friends. They would roll a ball together, play tag, go to school, keep secrets, whisper about boys and first kisses and in decades sit on the couch and hold their daughters together. They would have the benefit of having a sister, even if we had no more children, the same way we were. Best friends, best sisters, and they would get to experience it from infancy.
The day Madeline was born, Savannah sat patiently with us in the hospital for hours. She had spent the last three months lying on Elizabeth’s stomach, feeling Madeline move. Squiggling on top of her stomach, while Madeline would squiggle below. Reaching for Elizabeth’s bulging belly each time she saw her. Finally, a man covered in blue scrubs headed our way. He pushed a small sterile cradle with one nicely wrapped blanket. Savannah squealed and screamed and tried to climb out of my arms toward the bundle he pushed. A little bundle of Madeline. Savannah banged on the glass and laughed, as we watched Madeline be cleaned and measured and weighed. She was re-swaddled and returned to her rectangular crib, but Savannah’s banging and giggling and striving to reach her continued. The thrilling squeals of friendship didn’t stop until she was held next to the sleeping swaddled bundle. Savannah’s excitement was unbelievable and undeniable.
When Madeline was about two months old and Savannah eight months old, Savannah and I had our first visit to their home. Savannah tried to play with Madeline, but Madeline was only confused by her. Savannah tried to help Madeline take off her socks and gloves. Those horrible, suffocating socks and mitts that Savannah couldn’t stand to inhibit her senses. Madeline, however, loved the comfort and coziness they provided and kicked and cried each time Savannah tried to help her out of them. That evening, the girls feel asleep in our arms, as we sat and watched a movie. Elizabeth and I laughed at the irony. We had known each other for a decade, through high school parties, college parties, first kisses and late night dates. We had fought and loved together. We had seen each other through broken hearts, marriages and home ownership. What a different world we had entered into together. The night was perfect, as we held our daughters, drinking hot tea instead of beer. We thought it would be the first of many, but it was the first of few.
There were a few times we went to the arboretum or relaxed and played at each others houses, and of course there were birthday parties. But it wasn’t near what it should have been. We were busy with life. The life we hoped to share together began to keep us apart.
Savannah didn’t develop like Madeline. At seventeen months, Savannah stopped talking and refused to eat. By twenty-two months she was receiving services. At that time Madeline was sixteen months old. Madeline was playing tag and rolling balls and eating everything she could reach. Savannah spent her mornings in therapies. Madeline spent her mornings making friends at day care.
Elizabeth and I have known each other over two decades. We live worlds apart, but have never been closer. Living in different states, we text multiple times a week, keeping regular conversations. We do visit, but not as much as we would like. We have been through divorces and affairs and family deaths together. We love each other’s children, life family, and our children have learned that love from us. We are family, despite blood and distance. But Savannah can’t play with Madeline the way she once could. The desire is there, but so is the disability. Madeline can talk and cook and bathe herself. She enjoys music and TV shows that aren’t preschool motivated. There is a world of difference between them. A world that’s hard to explain to a ten year old. A world that is hard to explain to anyone. Honestly, Madeline is confused by Savannah and understandably so. Fortunately, Savannah has yet to notice. She has only noticed the love.
Even though the girls adore each other, and a vibrating excitement drips from Savannah each time Madeline visits, it isn’t like we thought. It isn’t picnics and lipgloss and cupcakes. I dream about that distant idealistic night, watching a movie and holding our sleeping daughters, and I know for one moment, it was perfect.